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It’s some justice… but we’ll never get over Lu Na loss: Family’s heartache as killer Stephen McKinney given 20 years for holiday murder of wife

The family of Lu Na McKinney, who was killed by her husband while on a family holiday, spoke of their heartache as her killer husband was jailed.

Stephen McKinney has already lodged grounds to appeal his conviction after he was handed a minimum 20-year sentence yesterday for what was described as the cruel cold-blooded and ruthlessly planned murder of his vulnerable and defenceless wife.

In a statement, her family said: "We would sincerely like to express our thanks to the judge, the jury, the PSNI major investigation team, the prosecution team and all those who assisted the investigation and the subsequent court trial.

"We appreciate the huge effort and hard work that has been undertaken by many, many people which has contributed to the successful conviction of Stephen McKinney for the murder of our much-loved Lu Na.”

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Lu Na McKinney.

Lu Na McKinney.

Lu Na McKinney.

The family said they had endured many difficult years “made more difficult living so far away from the investigation and trial”.

"We are thankful that Lu Na had so many people fighting for her. We appreciate the dedication that was shown by the investigation team who worked on this case and provided our family with detailed updates as the case progressed.

"The outcome of this court process has brought us some justice, it does not change the fact that Lu Na was so cruelly taken from us and we will never be able to see her, talk to her or for Lu Na to be part of our family celebrations. We will never get over our loss. We all love Lu Na and will miss her forever.”

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Stephen McKinney murdered his wife Lu Na as their children slept during a family boating holiday in Co Fermanagh in 2017.

The 45-year-old, originally from the Co Tyrone border town of Strabane, must serve 20 years before the Parole Commissioners can consider release.

Madam Justice McBride told the father of two – given the multitude and gravity of aggravating factors – a substantially higher 20-year term was required rather than the normal of 15 or 16 years.

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Lu Na McKinney

Lu Na McKinney

Lu Na McKinney

McKinney with an address in Castletown Square in Fintona, Tyrone, who'd lived with his 35-year-old wife and children in Flaxfield, Convoy, in Donegal, had always denied murdering his wife.

Her lifeless body was recovered in the early hours of April 13, 2017 by a jetty at Devenish Island on Lower Lough Erne where the family had moored on the first night of their cruise.

You denied her the opportunity of seeing her kids grow up.

As he was being led from the dock of Court 6 in Belfast's Laganside Courthouse, McKinney again protested his innocence, telling those around him: "I want to say something. I'm innocent."

Earlier, he listened in silence as Madam Justice McBride said he'd been "found guilty of the most heinous crime" of killing his wife whom he'd treated throughout the marriage with “disrespect".

She added: "You abused, degraded her and manipulated and controlled her and finally you took away her life.

"It was such a needless and cruel action. You were someone that she should have been able to trust but you betrayed that position and you ended her life prematurely.

"Lu Na has been described as gentle and light hearted. She was only 35 years old when she died.

"You denied her the opportunity of seeing her kids grow up, going to college and having their own families. You have left a trail of destruction in your wake.

"Two young children have been deprived of their mothers love, care and support. As a result of your action you have left the children without parents to care for them and their lives have been irreparably adversely affected.

"You have also deprived a mother of her only child and have caused endless hurt and pain by your cruel and callous actions. You committed this crime in cold blood. It was carefully planned and ruthlessly executed and carried out when Lu Na was entirely defenceless," said the judge.

Earlier Madam Justice McBride praised the PSNI investigation into the callous ruthless killing.

During the short hearing, she also paid tribute to a female detective who had worked on the case but had died before the trial commenced after contracting Covid-19.

She said the jury in his case convicted him having "clearly rejected his version of events that her death was a tragic accident".

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Search and rescue teams comb the area after the incident. Pic John McVitty.

Search and rescue teams comb the area after the incident. Pic John McVitty.

Search and rescue teams comb the area after the incident. Pic John McVitty.

The judge said by their verdict they also accepted McKinney's actions "showed premeditation ... he organised the trip, and ensured his wife Lu Na was placed in a situation where he could put her into the water ... knowing she could not save herself".

Madam Justice McBride said there were a number of aggravating features to the case while declaring that she could find no mitigating factors in McKinney's favour.

The judge then set out the three main features which called for the higher sentencing tariff in the case.

She said she was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt he knew his wife was a non-swimmer and often took the sleeping pill Zopiclone.

"He knew that she either would not awaken from the drug once placed in the water and would die by drowning or he knew that she could not react to the dangers present once pushed into the water because of her consumption of Zopiclone and therefore she would drown.

"I am further satisfied that he moored at a remote location so that he could murder his wife without there being any eyewitnesses and in circumstances where he would have a cover story that she accidentally drowned.

"After he murdered her, the defendant put in chain a number of carefully prepared scripts, she had died by accident which he relayed on the 999 call, to various witnesses and to the police.

"He further attempted to point any finger of suspicion away from him by stating he attempted to rescue her when in fact he failed to take any such action but rather doused himself with water to make it look like he had jumped into the Lough to save her.

Secondly, said the judge, the presence of the two McKinney children was no "accident but design as the defendant sought cynically to use their presence to throw suspicion away from him for the murder he intended to commit”.

"As a result the defendant put his children through the additional trauma of being removed by the police from their cabin in the middle of the night from an island in circumstances where they must have known their mother was gravely ill or deceased.

Lastly, Madam Justice McBride found that the murder was the culmination of the coercive controlling behaviour of the defendant throughout the marriage. She said that although there was no violence in the marriage, "McKinney had subjected his wife to coercive control and forced her to engage in a number of sexual activities against her will”.

"And when confronted with the prospect of her divorcing him, with all the consequences of that, the defendant murdered her", the judge concluded.

After the hearing, Detective Superintendent Eamonn Corrigan said their thoughts were with the family.

"Stephen McKinney took his family on a boating trip on Lough Erne – Lu Na would never return alive. Her children would return without their mother,” he said.

"I know today’s sentencing will never bring Lu Na back, however I hope this outcome brings some sort of comfort to her family.

“Stephen McKinney thought he had silenced Lu Na, he hadn’t - police spoke for her and found justice.”

Public Prosecution Service (PPS) Assistant Director, Lynne Carlin, added: “Stephen McKinney carefully planned and carried out his wife Lu Na’s murder on the first night of a family boating trip in Fermanagh in April 2017.

“He lied to police repeatedly, concocting a story that Lu Na had slipped and fallen into the water after she had gone out to check the mooring ropes were secure.

“The PPS prosecution team worked closely with the PSNI to pull together the various strands of circumstantial evidence and present a robust case at trial. This evidence included his two 999 calls to the emergency services, his differing accounts to police, neighbours and friends about what had happened and expert evidence on conditions in the lough that night.

“Taken as a whole, the evidence enabled us to build the strongest possible prosecution case against McKinney, which resulted in the jury finding him guilty of murder.

“Every murder causes great distress and pain. This case, in which McKinney murdered his wife as their two young children slept aboard the boat, is particularly disturbing.

“Today our thoughts are with Lu Na’s family, particularly her two children. While nothing will bring Lu Na back, I hope that this guilty verdict will bring some comfort to them as they continue to try and cope with this devastating loss.”

Detective Superintendent Corrigan made a specific appeal to anyone who feels trapped in an abusive relationship.

“Domestic abuse is a terrifying and impactful crime and very often people who are being abused feel isolated, vulnerable and frightened and don’t know where to turn. Please know that help is available. You can contact us on 101 or 999 in an emergency,” he said.

“We are here to help you and we will robustly investigate all allegations of abuse and fully support you through the criminal justice process. Please be assured that you can come forward in confidence and speak to detectives who will treat you with sensitivity and respect.

“A 24-hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is also available to anyone who has concerns about domestic or sexual abuse, now or in the past, the number for which is 0808 802 1414.”

“And we are not the only organisation that can help. Women’s Aid; Rainbow Project, Men’s Advisory Project, Men’s Alliance and other support services also offer a wide range of help and advice – You can find more information online at; https://www.psni.police.uk/crime/domestic-abuse/who-can-help-me/


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